Beneath the Glitter by Elle & Blair Fowler

Title: Beneath the Glitter
Author: Elle & Blair Fowler
Genre: Young Adult/ Chick-lit
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin

I’ve seen these sisters makeup videos pop up on YouTube very often and if you’ve ever searched for a review of a beauty product on YouTube, one of their reviews will most probably be recommended. I’ve watched a few, especially Elle’s Glitterature videos and they are pretty descent. So when I saw this book in the library I was instantly curious. My first reaction however was ‘Anyone now a days can write a book‘ considering being good at makeup doesn’t make you good at writing. But since I was in a reading slump already I thought I might just stop being a book snob and see what the book was like.

So let’s get on to my thoughts on this book. If you don’t like chick-lits or Young Adult, stay miles away from this book. It is what it is – a fluffy and light read. It actually does read like a feel good chick flick. 2 sisters Ava and Sophia become popular because of their makeup beauty videos and move to LA to climb the career ladder. In LA, they get to mix with the rich and famous and attend lavish parties. Eventually the lifestyle and misunderstandings between the 2 sisters almost ruin their career.

 The book tries to capitalize on the big bad image of LA and how being rich and famous will make you a shallow person. Only thing is it doesn’t quite ring true in this case. It feels too much on the surface. The story too is very breezy and superficial and drives on clichés. But it is entertaining. It’s a very quick read and doesn’t want you to make use of your brain cells too much, which could be a good thing once in a while.
Another good thing about the book is the bond between the 2 sisters – Ava and Sophia. I have 2 sisters and I could well understand their bond and it was very heartwarming and sweet at times. That is the perhaps the only section of the book which seemed effortless to me.
The worst Part? The book starts with the sisters getting arrested for a murder. It ends with ‘to be continued in the next book’ which annoys me to no extend. Again, I said this before, I don’t mind sequels but I prefer the subplot to end in the same book. If you want to write a sequel come up with another subplot.  Anyway, this book might not be for everybody. It seems like something targeting teenagers and younger crowd. But if you don’t mind a breezy, no-brainer once in a while, this does fit the bill.
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Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: Young Adult
Book in the series: #1
Awards: Cybils Award Nominee for Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult) (2011), YALSA Awards for Best Fiction for Young Adults (2012), YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers (2012), Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of the Year (2011), NPR’s Top Five Teen (2011)
Endeavor Award Finalist (2012)

My thoughts:
First off, I don’t watch horror movies nor do I read many horror books. The last ghost movie I saw was Grunge and that too in the theater so it was pretty long back. But who can resist a cover like that? Also, since it was Young Adult, I assumed it wouldn’t be super scary. Well, I was partly right. It wasn’t as scary but considering how easily I get spooked I refused to read this at night.

Either way, I think it was a very good book and however scared I might be it was worth it. Cas Lowood is not your typical teenager. He kills ghosts that haunt. He inherited this unique vocation from his dad who was a professional Ghost killer. Cas and his mom move to a new neighborhood as usual in pursuit of a new Ghost – Anna. Anna is said to be living in an old house and has killed many people. She was brutally murdered a few decades back but that doesn’t explain the amount of strength she has. Cas, as always, is there to kill her. But circumstances are such that alter his life forever.

I thought this would be a typical fantasy novel somewhere along the lines of Twilight or Hush. But the story and the setting is very unique and so is Anna. The first encounter with Anna is very scary and I almost stopped reading. But I had to continue as I couldn’t resist knowing what happened next. Dont take Anna’s ghost as all fluff. There is violence, there is gore and there is no glossing over her deeds. The romance although weird Is believable and doesn’t feel forced. I want to read more about it and hopefully there will be more in the next book.

The characters could have been fleshed out more and the story could have had more details. But other than that I have no complaints. This is the first book in the series but its complete in itself which is very rare these days in YA.

Note: I just googled this book and it seems very popular. There are many art works dedicated to Anna. 

Stephanie Meyer is producing a movie based on this book. It will be exciting to see how it turns out.

The Raising by Laura Kasischke

Title: The Raising
Author:
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (March 15, 2011)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Raising is about a perfect blond teenager who died in an accident and comes back to the campus to haunt. Whats not to like? A lot apparently. My foremost complaint about the book was that it jumped a lot between the past and present and in-between the characters as well. The moment I found myself immersed in a certain storyline the narration jumped to something else. Not only did I find this very distracting but it also made it very difficult for me to follow the story.

The characters for most part were also very unlikable, be it Nicole, the girl who died, her boyfriend or Josie – her roommate. The only character I liked was Perry who was Clark’s friend.  But half way through the book I started to dislike Perry as well. The storyline was also very bizarre, I found it very difficult to accept.

But the book is not without its plus points. That I found the story weird could also be a plus point for someone who likes a unique storyline. The one thing I loved about the book was the classes on Death that Professor Mira taught. I was genuinely interested in the subject and this book provided me enough material to learn something new and start researching more on a certain topic if I wanted to.

All said and done, although I was very excited about reading this book, it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

Red Lotus by Pai Kit Fai

Red Lotus coverTitle: Read Lotus (UK version)
Author: Pai Kit Fai
Source: Library
Published by Sphere (first published January 5th 2010)
Rating:4 out of 5 stars

I had a reading block for the longest time;
hence the lack of posts. I haven’t blogged here for a while for the same reason and a book that bought an end to this block is worth mentioning. I literally devoured this book and considering it is 500 pages long, it says something.

Red Lotus
is a story of 2 women, mother and daughter, who were unlucky to be born in a time and place which was not very kind to women. The book begins in the year 1906 at the Great Pine Spice Farm on the Pearl river in Southern China. In a rich farmers family, a young girl is bought as a concubine. She was a girl from an influential family but was sold because the family had fallen into bad times. The concubine gives birth to a girl who is named Li-Xia. Li-xia survives against all odds and manages to escape her house when she is sent to work in a Silk weaving factory in Ten Willows. There she finds a family and some happiness. She finds her destiny with a foreigner called Ben. I wont tell you much but suffice to say Li-xia’s story is the first half of the book and Sing’s, her daughters story is the second half of the book.

Some people might say this book is rambling and very detailed. But for someone like me it was the main reason why I loved this book. Miss Fai’s writing is brilliant and she manages to bring the Chinese countryside, the Silk Farm and Macau to life. It was fun to read about what Macau was like a few years back. I marked a lot of pages but for the sake of this review, I’ll post one here

Gold can be found everywhere you look for it…sprinkled by sunlight on clear water…in the evening sky and the coming of each new dawn. It falls like scattered coins on the forest floor and gilds the leaf of every tree; glitters on every blade of grass after the rain and turns each dewdrop into a precious jewel. You will find gold in kindness; it can be found in the seeking of happiness and in helping others. Try to find your fortune among these things, collect what you can of these real gold, and one day you will be qian-jin.
(*qian-jin: means being compared to thousand pieces of gold).

There are some drawbacks of course, but they are mainly with the scenes towards the end of the book which I’ll refrain from mentioning here.

I loved both Li-xia and Sing but I have to admit I have a special affinity for Sing just because of her trying childhood and the way she overcame all odds and still remained strong and pure.

It’s a book worth reading if you enjoy oriental books, love reading about the countryside, love reading epic stories and finally, love reading about strong women. This ones definitely going on my ‘one of the best reads‘ of 2013.

Note:
1. The summary on Goodreads spoils the plot. Miss it if you can.
2. The cover is gorgeous but unfortunately its the most mismatch cover ever. The story is about Chinese women set in China. However the girl on the cover is definitely not Chinese, neither is the farm picture at the bottom. It’s a clear case of designing for the sake of beauty and not as a reflection of the actual book. Since I’m a designer myself now, I find this very disappointing.
3. This book is also published with the name ‘The Concubines Daughter’ in the US.

Growing up Bin Laden by Jean Sasson (with Osama’s wife and son)

book cover: Growing up bin ladenTitle: Growing up Bin Laden
Author: Jean Sasson (with Najwa Bin Laden and Omar Bin Laden)
352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (October 27, 2009)
Set in: Saudi Arabia
Genre: Non-Fiction (memoir)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts: Having read and loved most of Jean Sasson’s books, I’m always happy when I discover she’s written a new book. This book was more interesting to me because it was written on Osama Bin Laden, the elusive ‘self-proclaimed’ jihadi. Although I have intense hate for him, there is a part of me that wants to know why and how does a man become the Osama. How does a guy have so much control over so many people that they were willing to die for him? Also, What kind of family life did he have? All this and the author’s name led me to read this book.

The book starts with Osama’s life in Jeddah, then Sudan and finally to Afghanistan. Because the book is from his family’s point of view it doesn’t have details of his jihadi life but enough to note the major crossroads of his life and how it shaped and encouraged him towards a violent future.

Omar Bin laden: courtesy 4th-reich

The first thing that struck me about this book is the honesty with which it’s written. It must have taken immense strength from the wife and son to narrate this. They don’t pretend to hate Osama for the sake of the world. They loved and tried to please him in spite of what he was. His sons and wives spent their lives travelling with him to various countries and living in increasingly deteriorating conditions. Osama was a rich and successful builder to begin with. His family lived in luxury until Osama became overly “religious”. This book is not written for the sake of writing one. I have read memoirs of people where all they write is common knowledge. But this book reveals a different side to Osama, it shows him as a devoted family man. Time Magazine describes it best

‘The thrill of being a fly on the wall of the bin Laden family’.

The book was written before Osama dies so that part is still a mystery but fortunately I have a later edition of the book which gives a brief idea of the reaction of his family to his death. I seriously cannot stop talking about ‘Growing up Bin Laden‘ and since there is no one else I can talk to, I am happy and grateful I have this place.

Year of the Tiger by David Miller

year of the tigerTitle: Year of the Tiger
Author: David Miller
Source: Review Copy
Set in: Singapore
Paperback, 278 pages
Monsoon Books Pte Ltd
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
My only reason for accepting this book for review was that it was set in Singapore. If you read my blog regularly you might know I don’t read many thrillers. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t actively seek them. So if I’m just going to read a few thrillers every year, I’m glad ‘Year of the Tiger’ was one of them.

This book in set in 2014 Singapore. When workers are digging for a tunnel in Singapore, they stumble upon a secret room filled with loot from the World War II. It’s a vault created by the Japanese and protected with a lethal virus that could affect hundreds of people very quickly. When the workers take the loot and flee Singapore, it creates an epidemic which can only be stopped or controlled if the mystery of the virus can be solved by the clues left by Japanese.

For me the plot itself is a big draw because along with the current story it also gives interesting information on the Japanese during the World War. It’s intriguing to imagine that a small and super developed city like Singapore could have so many secrets. I found the Singapore history and the presence of tunnels and secret rooms in modern-day Singapore fascinating, and because it intermingled seamlessly with the plot, I was one happy reader. Unfortunately I don’t know much about the Japanese occupation of Singapore and this book more or less gave me a teaser without reading like a history lesson. It made me want to study more about that particular time period. How many thrillers can you say that for?  This is also the kind of story that could turn out to be true a few years down the road. That kind of explains part of my fascination to the story.

The involvement of the Japanese in the whole affair makes me wonder how Japanese will react if there was truly a situation like this. I kind of imagine it would be pretty close to the book. As far as the writing goes – it works well for a thriller I guess. The only problem I have is that the language used by the Singaporeans was not really Singaporean. If you have lived in Singapore even for a short while you’ll notice the unique brand of English spoken by the locals here which makes it distinctively Singaporean. While the characters weren’t particularly memorable, the story was enough to keep me occupied.

When I was almost 90% finished with the book I wondered about the end, I was worried about how it was all going to tie up. For me the most important part in the thriller is the ending, It could make or break a book for me. Fortunately, the ending in this book was pretty good. In some parts it was a very simple solution but in some parts it was pretty complicated considering the scale and scope of the problem.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I hope there are more books written that are based in Singapore. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more David Miller books, especially if he writes about Singapore. For just 278 pages, ‘Year of the Tiger’ was throughly entertaining.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

bookTitle: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books; Book Club edition (June 7, 2011)

My thoughts:
Here is a completely different take on a very popular topic. Mr. Riggs has taken the plotline that many fantasy novels have today and turned it into something completely different…in a good way.

Jacob Portman is a normal teenager who leads a boring and uneventful life (according to him). He is fascinated and intrigued by the stories his grandfather used to tell him about his past life – about growing up in an orphanage on an island and about the peculiar children who lived there. He described children who could levitate, who could pick heavy objects and of the one who was invisible. As Jacob grew up he knew these stories were just made up.

But when his grandfather dies in mysterious circumstances, he decides to find some answers by journeying to his grandfathers orphanage somewhere close to Wales. What he finds there is completely unexpected, fascinating and overwhelming.

I loved loved loved the plot. I thought it was innovative and very mysterious. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. The author created a beautiful atmosphere with the Island and the mysteries that surrounded it. I wished I was on the Island with Jacob. There is a lot more to the story than what I just told you but I wont disclose more because I want to keep it spoiler free.

Now the bad – yes, it’s not perfect. There were a lot of loopholes or if you see it from a different perspective, I didn’t understand some of the story. The ending was rushed and there is a sequel. I’m kind of bored with the whole sequel obsession in YA. Why can’t people write a book that is complete in itself? Also I found Jacob to be very decent considering the fact that he is a teenager and a boy.

I still really enjoyed reading the book and would love to read the next one. The pictures in the book helped with the story and made it more fascinating. Initially, before reading the book, just looking at the pictures, I thought this would be a horror novel – but it isn’t. I know some people get turned off by horror novels, so don’t be.

I think you would enjoy this book even if you don’t read YA.

Some of the pictures from the book

picpic1pic2

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

Title: The Informationist
Author: Taylor Stevens
Genre: Thriller (Adult fiction)
Source: Review Copy
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (March 8, 2011)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
I usually don’t read a lot of thrillers. I used to read many but mostly by Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook or Mary Higgins Clark. But lately I don’t find myself picking up an authors book just because I want to read a thriller.

But I LOVED the Informationist. I will go as far as saying it’s one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. I could be biased because this book has everything that I love and look for in a thriller. I tend to love books set in Africa and I don’t like cozy mysteries/ thrillers. I like them to be grand, I like them to be set in exotic places. BAsically I don’t like those one room or one town thrillers. I don’t like those detective thrillers either.

This book is set in Africa and I love everything set in Africa. I find everything about Africa fascinating. The Informationist is about Vanessa Monroe who is The Informationist. She goes to developing countries to gather inside information and she sells this information to business tycoons or business people who then use it to set themselves up in these developing countries. So when she is given this assignment of this missing girl she is reluctant because it’s not really what she does but she is keen because it will take her back to Africa which is her birth place and where she spent the initial years of her life and there is something that she doesn’t want to face and keep in her past which is why she is reluctant to take the assignment.

But there is a part of her that makes her want to go back and face her demons which is why she accepts it and it doesn’t hurt that the missing fathers girl is a millionnaire and he offers her a lot of money. So this is the basic premise of the book. All said and done this is not really a missing person’s story. We also learn a lot about Vanessa’s past and why she is the way she is. Vanessa is this kick-ass heroine who is intelligent and resourceful. She always gets what she wants. She is also very adventurous. She is ready to do things that many people wont do and she has the connections to do them. When she goes ot Africa she goes to Equirotial Guinea and places around it. What was really fun was following her through West Africa. She travels via boat, on foot and it was just so different and nice to get inside information on West Africa. I’m not sure how much the author knows about the place but in the Q and A given at the end of the book it says that she has stayed there for a few years and it shows.

I just wish there was a map somewhere in this book because I’m not very knowledgable on that part on Africa and I don’t think many people are. But I googled and found a really good map. I had fun following Vanessa’s journey from the capital of Equitorial Guinea to Cameroon to all these exotic paces. If you want to read a book that is different from the wildlife, the Serengeti, mass migration and even the war, this book is perfect for you.

So in conclusion I would say that this is a very fast paced, page turning, edge of the seat thriller and I really hope you give this book a chance even if you don’t read thrillers.

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You can WATCH my review of the same below if you are interested 🙂

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Source: Library
Set in: San Francisco (U.S)
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
I think I was probably the last ones to read Anna and the French kiss. I read it a couple of months back and although I didn’t love it, I did like it a lot. There were a couple of things I didn’t like about the book. Firstly I think Stephanie Perkins relied too much on the Paris setting and Paris does not do much for me. I mean I’m sure it’s a great city and all but I haven’t seen it and whatever I’ve seen on TV doesn’t impress me much. The second thing was Anna. I thought she was very irritating, I can’t pinpoint why but it’s very difficult to love a book when you don’t like the central character.

But I liked Stephanie Perkins writing so when I saw Lola and the Boy Next Door on the library shelf, I grabbed it because new books don’t tend to stay on the shelf for long. And I loved this book. It was a very fun book to read with a few serious issues covered as well. I loved Lola, I think she was a very colorful and fun character. I liked the way she dressed and loved that she was artistic and loved to design or mix and match her costumes. She was a very fun character to read about and she would be a fun person to be friends with as well.

The Boy Next Door, Cricket, was well, perfect. It works only because it’s a romance novel. There are many other things I loved about the book as well. I loved the authors writing. She reminds me of Sarah Dessen and although I love Sarah Dessen more I think Stephanie Perkins is fast becoming one of my favorite authors.

The second thing I liked was Lola has gay parents and I love that Stephanie Perkins had the courage to portray something like this. She showed that gay parents can bring up a perfectly normal child. The characters were great as well-Cricket’s sister, Lola’s friend Lindsey, her parents. Oh and if you loved Anna and the French Kiss, you’ll love this book more, because here we get to see what happened to Anna and St. Clair after Paris. And they don’t take over the story, they kind of blend in and Lola and Cricket are still the central characters.

Another thing I loved was the San Francisco setting. Stephanie Perkins describes a city really well and she makes me want to visit San Francisco sometime. Also, I love that Lola and Cricket have lives outside of their love story.
So, in conclusion, I would say I really loved this one. And if you haven’t read these books yet, I would suggest you start with Anna and the French Kiss first.

And….here is the video for the same if you are interested. It’s not that good but I promise I will improve 🙂

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Title: Daughter of Xanadu
Author: Dori Jones YAng
Source: Library
Set in: Mongolia
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
There are 2 things you should know before I start this review.
1) What is Xanadu: It’s a place in inner Mongolia which had the summer palace of Khublai Khan who was the grandson of the greatest ruler of Mongolia, Genghis Khan.
2) Who is Marco Polo: Marco Polo was a traveller and merchant who travelled to China and Mongolia somewhere between 1271 and 1295 alon with his father and Uncle. When he went back to Venice, where he’d come from, he wrote a book about his travels called Travels of Marco Polo. The author relied on this book while writing Daughter of Xanadu.

Lets get to the book now. This book is about a teenage girl called Emmajin who was the grand daughter of Khublai Khan. She was unlike other royal princesses who simply wanted to enjoy the comforts of palace and laze around the whole day and just be content with a life of doing nothing. Our Emmajin wanted to be a warrior, she wanted to fight for the great Khan and return home victorious after defeating the enemies of Mongolia. She wanted to help the Khan achieve the goal of ruling over the entire world. At least that’s what she thought she wanted to do.

Enter young Marco Polo. The Khan was not very sure of the agenda of these European merchants so he assigned Emmajin to befriend them and spy on them. Morco Polo has the exact opposite views than Emmajin. He thinks people should exist in the world peacefully and that all this war and occupying other countries was unnecessary. Of course Emmajin disagreed with him. All she wanted to was fight in a war.

So this is the basic premise. What attracted me to this book in the first place was that it was set in Mongolia. There aren’t many YA books that are set in Mongolia. And also that it was historical fiction.

I thought the first part was slow without much action. The author was basically building up Emmajin’s character and her background. Also, this was the part where Morco Pola nd Emmajin got to know each other and were attracted to each other, at least on a superficial level. The second half is where the action starts, when they travel to these remotest parts of Mongolia and China on a mission. This was my favorite part,the lands they crossed, the people they met, the adventures they had (not spoiling anything here) and how Emmajin and her relationship with Morco Polo changed because of all this.

There is only one thing I disliked in the novel. Emmajin never existed. Morco Polo did not meet anyone in Mongolia and fell in love with, at least none that is documented. I don’t mind introducing new supporting characters and new situations to build a story but I definitely have a problem when 2 of the main characters are fictional (namely Emmajin and her cousin). It kind of negates the whole romance for me.

But overall I really liked the book. I liked reading about Mongolia and their customs. I also liked reading about how it might have been for Morco Polo in ancient times. I loved that I got to learn a bit about history. I definitely recommend reading this book.

Oh and if you like watching videos, do watch my review for the same book below